By George Fullerton
Sebastien Pouliot was convinced at a young age that he should become a forestry contractor. He joined the family contracting business with a defined focus: to embrace opportunities and operate profitably.
As child growing up in Lac St. Jean, Quebec, Sebastien watched his father, Bertrand, head off to the woods for his work week. Sebastien began working alongside his father while in his teens. He officially went to work in the family contracting business after he completed a community college heavy equipment mechanic course.
“When I was in school, I always liked being around equipment,” he explained. “On Saturdays, I would be out helping with oil changes and small repair work, while my brothers were more interested in playing on computers. I would also tag along with my father when he was out buying supplies and parts for his machines.”
In 1981, Bertrand loaded up his full tree harvesting equipment and floated it to New Brunswick, to work for J.D. Irving in the Deersdale district. For seven years, Bertrand worked in Deersdale, commuting (800 km round trip) back to his family in Lac St. Jean for weekends. In 1988, the family moved to the town of Grand Falls, in northwest New Brunswick.
Bertrand made the switch to cut-to-length with a Rottne harvester and forwarder team in 1990. Sebastien graduated from high school in Grand Falls in 1998, and immediately enrolled in a heavy equipment mechanical course at the community college in Bathurst, NB, and upon completion, joined his father in the contracting business.
“I tried working for a heavy equipment dealer, but I did not like it much,” says Sebastien. “A machine would come in for a specific problem, and once we had that fixed, it was out the door. I was always interested in identifying other issues with the machine which could have been worked on, and may have helped avoid a major breakdown in the future, but that was not how their business operated.”
He explained that the dealership work environment convinced him that owning and working on his own equipment was where he should be.
In 2004, Bertrand began a flail chipper operation for Irving, while Sebastien took over the harvester operation, which was running a Timbco harvester/forwarder team. Sebastien began working for Irving, and then worked for Groupe Savoie, Chaleur Sawmills and Acadian Timber, and a few years on private woodlots, all in northern New Brunswick.
In 2006, Sebastien received a call from Wagner Forest Management looking for a contractor to work in central Nova Scotia. He worked for five years with Wagner, commuting home to family in Grand Falls on weekends.
In 2011-2012, Sebastien answered a call from Northern Pulp, who was in need of a contractor in central Nova Scotia, and he went to work with one feller buncher, two processors and a forwarder.
Enjoying a good working relationship with Northern Pulp, Sebastien finally moved his family to Bedford, Nova Scotia in 2014. Bertrand sold his chipper equipment in 2016 and entered retirement, which entailed moving to Nova Scotia—and working alongside Sebastien in the harvesting operation.
The current harvesting team consists of a Cat 541 buncher with a Quadco 22-inch head, a Cat 541 with Log Max 7000C head, a Cat 521B with Log Max Extreme head, and a Timbco 445 with a Log Max 7000C head. Timber moving power comes from a pair of TimberPro TF830B forwarders.
The equipment line-up also includes a Cat D7 dozer, a Volvo road grader, Western Star float truck, Western Star log truck, in addition to mulcher heads for land clearing.
Sebastien has diversified his business to include land clearing. It’s a strategy he feels gives him a level of security, in an economy where forestry increasingly faces market downturns.
The operation works on two shifts, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a night shift from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. The crew consists of eleven operators, including the truck driver. One forwarder and the oldest processor and buncher operate only the day shift.
Sebastien has one Western Star tractor dedicated to float work and another Western Star pulling a triaxle log trailer. Truck loading is handled by the forwarders.
Sebastien says that one of the perpetual challenges of the contracting business is finding and retaining skillful and reliable operators. “A lot of guys don’t like it when we have to shut down in the spring. Sometimes they call me up, and say they won’t be back because they found some other work.”
He noted that starting new operators also has challenges. A lot of guys have an interest in operating machines in the woods, but often don’t understand what they are getting into. “Some just don’t like working out in the woods,” he says. “It is not like a construction site. Some are uncomfortable with mud and insects and the elements they encounter in the woods. And sometimes, operating logging equipment is a lot more difficult than they imagined, and they call up on the weekend and say they won’t be back.”
Sebastien said training new operators entails a good deal of both direct and indirect expenses for a contractor. A new person will have low production numbers as they learn to operate, and there is always the concern that they may damage equipment through inexperience.
When he was contacted by Peter Robichaud of the Canadian Woodlands Forum and Rod Babcock about a new operator training program, Sebastien was very interested.
“I believe they got my name from Northern Pulp because they knew I was looking for operators. They described the program to me, and I decided it was well worth a try, and I agreed to hire one of the graduates.
“As it turned out, I am very happy with the results. I reviewed the assessment and simulator results of several trainees and was really interested in a couple of the candidates. I finally selected Chris McFarlane, and he came to work with us. Chris invested himself in the training program and had paid tuition, so I knew he had made a big commitment, even before coming on with us.
“All the graduates were well qualified, but what put Chris ahead of the rest was his past experience working and operating on oil rigs,” explained Sebastien. “Those oil rigs are highly technical and they are isolated. To me, that said he is comfortable working in remote situations—and he has the technical skills to operate complex machines. The second thing was that he lived nearby and would be able to commute with our crew into the operations.”
Sebastien says he has been happy with Chris. “His first week, his production was low as he learned the processor. But then in his second week, his production really picked up. And his quality is exceptional. The forwarder operators tell me they can recognize the quality of his work, where he started his shift and where he stopped.
“If he has a mechanical problem, he will get hold of me by CB. He will continue to work as long as the machine operates. But once I figure out the problem and explain it to him and we get it fixed, Chris will remember that in detail and if it occurs again, he takes care of it himself. That is a very important quality in an operator. Chris likes to work by himself and he also likes to fix things independently.”
Part of Chris’ on-boarding with Sebastien was 16 weeks of coaching, a formal part of the training course.
Sebastien explained that in his first week on the job, Chris’ coach was on the job three or four days. In the second week, it was maybe two days, then it was reduced to one visit every two weeks, and then once a month.
After coaching wrapped up, Chris continued to operate a processor behind the feller buncher.
Sebastien reflected positively about Chris’ work operating equipment. “Chris has an exceptional production level for an operator with less than one year of experience. When he encounters a problem with the way the head is operating, he gives me a call and we discuss the issue and I will offer some suggestions for a fix. Most often, by the time I get to where Chris is, he has the problem fixed and he has his machine operating.
“Chris gets along well with everyone in our crew,” added Sebastien. “He is a very quiet person, and sometimes on our commute to work, I have to look around the truck, just to make sure he’s with us.”
Chris had been processing with the Cat 541, behind the buncher. But Sebastien expected they would have the opportunity to have him operate as a harvester. “Chris enjoys a challenge, and I am sure he will do well working as a harvester.”
On the Cover:
While others shy away from oilpatch logging, Alberta's JD Haggart Contracting pursues this business for one simple reason—it pays better and they have the experience to be able to mobilize quickly when an opportunity comes their way. They also have the equipment to deliver the wood, including two John Deere 2154 processor carriers, both equipped with Waratah heads. Read all about the operation beginning on page 10 of this issue. (Cover photo by Tony Kryzanowski)
Balancing out the forestry workplace
There’s a movement underway to encourage more women to work in the forest industry, and it’s getting some solid traction from forest company Tolko Industries—and full support from women who are now working in the industry.
Ability and availability = logging success
Alberta logging contractor JD Haggart—managed by the husband and wife team of Dave and Roxanne Haggart—know that ability and availability are keys to logging success, especially in oilpatch logging.
Front end focus following mill fire
Saskatchewan’s NorSask Forest Products is bouncing back from a fire that hit its sawmill earlier this year, and has invested $21 million on a major front end redesign following the fire.
Bringing on the next generation...
Nova Scotia’s Sebastien Pouliot knew he wanted to be a logger at a very young age—and he’s now successfully ushering in a new generation of equipment operators, through a training program.
Salvage logging in B.C.—but this time it's for burned wood
Forest companies and logging contractors are getting ready to go into salvage mode big-time to tackle the burned timber from the worst fire season B.C. has ever seen. It’s been estimated that about 53 million cubic metres of timber has been burned, about four times the provincial allowable annual cut.
Paul Hargrave and his son, Scott, have a passion for sawmilling—and for race cars, too, since they have a combination sawmill/speedway operation on B.C.’s Vancouver Island.
Team logging effort
The husband and wife team that manages Ontario’s St. Onge logging has been successful in directing their operations through the industry’s rocky times—and now has a very successful chipping operation, and recently started logging for EACOM and Weyerhaeuser.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and Alberta Agriculture.
The Last Word
Jim Stirling on B.C.’s wildest wildfire season, and looking at how to prevent a repeat performance.